First Draft Episode #180: Sarah Enni Q&A- Transcript
Date: March 1, 2019
Sarah Enni, debut author of Tell Me Everything and usually the host of the First Draft podcast, answers questions from past First Draft interviewees about craft and ego, staying on schedule, Bob Costas’ pink-eye story, the evolution of her interview style, Hammer the cat’s origin story.
The original post for this episode can be found here.
[Theme music plays]
Maurene Goo [Listen to her First Draft episode here] Okay, Sarah put a call out to everybody who has been interviewed on First Draft, which is a lot, and she asked people to send questions for her, if they had any, so that we could do a little Q&A.
So, I’m gonna read some of them here.
Sarah Enni I have not read most of these.
Maurene Goo Yeah, you haven’t cause she quickly sent them to me. Okay, so this is in no particular order. First one is from Nic Stone [listen to her First Draft episode here] the author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out, “How did hosting the First Draft Podcast influence the writing of your debut novel?”
Sarah Enni Ooh, that is a really interesting question. I don’t know yet. I think it didn’t have as much influence on the writing of my book, I think it’s having a huge influence on me, as a person, going through the release of my book. Because talking to all of these writers, hearing about their experiences, seeing that they are whole and complete people outside of their books, was such a good and persistent reminder for me to not make me and my books a one-to-one.
I am worth the world without my books. And that is something that…
Maurene Goo That’s very important for people to remember going through this.
Sarah Enni It’s super easy to lose sight of that, you know?
Maurene Goo Because our craft and ego is all wrapped up in this product that we are selling which, you know, is really hard for us to control that.
Sarah Enni Yeah.
Maurene Goo Okay, the next question is from Kristen Kittscher [listen to her First Draft episode here] the middle grade author of Wig In The Window and Tiara On The Terrace. She says, “I’m in awe of how you balance such a full schedule of travel, and podcast production with writing. What strategies have you developed to help you manage time, and shift between the different mindsets?”
Sarah Enni Um, thank you for that question Kristen! That’s so sweet of you to say. I am religious about google calendar and bullet journal. And listen, I’m not here posting pictures of drawings in my bullet journal, though if that’s how you bullet journal – more power to you!
I have a black and white checkmark system that I’ve cultivated over time that works for me. I’ve kept this type of a to-do list in my notebook for four years. If I write it down, I’ll remember to do it. So, I open the thing to both sides and I have “real life”, “author life”, “podcast life”, and I should do improve, or whatever [chuckles]. But all the different facets of my life. I try to write down every single thing that I need to do. I’m better at mono-tasking because multi-tasking really throws me off [pauses] in a big way.
So, I will then know what I need to do on a certain day. I will set the task and go through it in blocks of time. But the answer is, it’s hard. And stuff falls through the cracks more often than you’d think – certainly. And also, I don’t travel… I travel a lot, but not as much as I think people think, or Instagram makes it seem.
Maurene Goo You do travel a lot, but you take long breaks too. I feel like you have concentrated times of travel. But also, you’re journal is actually a work of art. It’s the neatest handwriting! I admire very much that you keep to the schedule. I always feel like, “Oh, you’re on top of shit.” You’re not wildly procrastinating which, I feel, I have a tendency to do. So, I can tell when other people are more in control of their lives.
Sarah Enni I think everybody has the urge to procrastinate. And what I got a handle on, which partly I learned by listening Allie Brosh who did Hyperbole and a Half. She has this great, great – I mean devastating - web comic about procrastination and how it plays into depression. And how if you procrastinate, it adds to the anxiety, right? It’s sort of like picking your scab.
So, I keep that in mind when I’m avoiding an email, I’ll often just take a deep breath and dive into it and just do it. It feels so intimidating, but it’s actually always – almost always – easier than I thought it was gonna be.
Maurene Goo Yeah, I’ve also worked on my procrastination over the years and gotten a lot better at it. And it’s like [huffs], “Why don’t I just do it?” It literally relieves weeks of anxiety about this one thing.
Sarah Enni Exactly.
Maurene Goo Next question is from Shane Pangburn [listen to his First Draft episode here] producer of YallWest Book Fest and illustrator. His question is, “As an interviewer and an author, do you ever use interview techniques on your own characters? And if so, have any of their answers surprised you?”
Sarah Enni Oooh, that’s so interesting! Okay, I will say, Kate Hart has this incredible character worksheet on her website which is katehart.net. It is this long excel spreadsheet full of details about your main character. And for quite a few books, I would go through and answer all of those questions for my characters.
But interview techniques… I guess the technique is… you know, sometimes people answer a question and they are dancing around the answer. And often the way to get to it is to ask it again, and again, and again, and break people down until they’re ready to talk about the emotional heart of what they’re trying to say. I think that’s something that I learned a lot also through improv, and brought to the page. And learned a lot over the last year, especially, was like, “Just make your character say what they mean sometimes. “ And get into the heart of it.
Maurene Goo Right. That’s really good advice because sometimes you’re like… you feel like you have to be vague. Or, you have to be mysterious. But it’s like, “No dude.”
Sarah Enni And especially in YA! We get a lot of latitude about characters just saying what they feel. I think we both come from reading a lot of literary fiction which is a lot of hinting, and feeling, and atmosphere. And in YA, people get mad and they can just yell and say hurtful things.
Maurene Goo Right.
Sarah Enni So, embrace it.
Maurene Goo Or, just talk about their feelings for three paragraphs.
Sarah Enni Yes!
Sarah Enni Oh! I think I got a glimpse of this one, but go for it.
Maurene Goo She says, “Hello! Yes please. Address your feelings for Bob Costas.” Signed, “Your admiring public.”
Sarah Enni [Guffaws] Kate Hart knows good and well that I hate Bob Costas!
Maurene Goo Oh my god!
Sarah Enni So, if you don’t know who Bob Costas is, you know him cause if you’ve ever watched the Olympics he’s been the short, brunette man who is a sportscaster who’s been doing it for forty years. I can’t frickin stand this guy. He just looks condescending. I feel talked down to when he speaks. I hate how they are so overly emotional and maudlin about the Olympics. I can’t stand it.
Maurene Goo [Continually laughing in background] Did you enjoy his eye infection?
Sarah Enni One year he was the main NBC guy during the Olympics and he had pink eye so extreme that the producers were finally like, “Bob, you’ve been working for us for like fifty frickin years, but your eyeballs are disgusting and you can’t be on screen anymore.”
Maurene Goo Didn’t you felt sorry for him.
Sarah Enni I did not! I was laughing my ass off. [Humphs] I had so much joy for that moment. And Kate was there to laugh along with me.
Maurene Goo Oh my god, hilarious. I’m glad we all got to hear the Bob Costas rant. Um… next question is from Tochi Onyebuchi author of Beasts Made of Night and Crown of Thunder [listen to his First Draft episode here] another hard-hitting question.
Sarah Enni Ooh!
Maurene Goo “Favorite Deftones album and why?”
Sarah Enni [Laughs] Um, this is an excellent question from Tochi. It could only come from Tochi who has excellent musical taste. I am a big Deftones fan. Were you ever a big fan of theirs?
Maurene Goo Um, I wasn’t a big fan, but I enjoy them. They kind of get lumped into the specific era of music I listened to in college.
Sarah Enni Yeah. You and I, I think, have really similar – they diverge of course – but we have really similar music tastes and we were in the indie stuff. But in high school I was obsessed with the Deftones. And I recognize that White Pony was their best album, but I have to say that the one before that with Drive on it was the one I listened to the most.
I went to a concert once with my then boyfriend, and the lead singer – whose name is, I believe, Chino Moreno – I got to touch his stomach because he was crowd surfing. It was a big moment for me.
Maurene Goo [Laughing] I got to touch the butt of the lead singer of The Darkness, crowd surfing.
Sarah Enni Oh my god! The Darkness? That’s incredible!
Maurene Goo I don’t even remember his name.
Sarah Enni Uh, well no, but you obviously…
Maurene Goo A one-hit-wonder.
Sarah Enni You obviously remembered the title! I Believe in a Thing Called Love.
Maurene Goo Yeah, I do remember the title. That song brings me joy.
Sarah Enni If anyone listening to this hasn’t watched the music video for I Believe in a Thing Called Love by the Darkness.
Maurene Goo Oh my god. Do yourself a favor!
Sarah Enni Do yourself a favor. Have the best three minutes of your life and watch that music video.
Maurene Goo And if any of you guys have a time travel machine, go back in time and go to one of their concerts. It was the best concert I’ve ever been to.
Sarah Enni I’m so mad that I didn’t go.
Maurene Goo [Laughing] Oh my gosh. That’s a good question Tochi.
Sarah Enni Yeah!
Sarah Enni I sure can. So, I love that Victoria asked this question, because she knows that I did a little bit of ghostwriting. When I moved to LA, the boo didn’t …
Maurene Goo Yes! I remember now! Okay, yes.
Sarah Enni Yeah, yeah, it was a while ago. But when I moved to LA, Margaret Stohl, who is a wonderful writer of the Beautiful Creatures Series – coauthor of The Beautiful Creature Series – and many other awesome books [Cats Vs. Robots. Listen to her First Draft episode here]. Hooked me up with an agent who does a lot of ghostwriting stuff.
I ghostwrote a middle grade book for a YouTube star, and I co-ghostwrote a [story] loosely based on the life of a Vine star. Listeners… neither of those books made it to the shelves for various reasons. But I got paid for them. They did not take up an enormous amount of time. And just for the sake of transparency, this middle grade book I wrote was thirty thousand words, and I got paid ten thousand dollars, and I wrote it in three weeks.
So, that’s not bad. It really helped when I was having a financial crunch and I had fun doing it. Ultimately I felt, because I already had the podcast, and writing my own books, and at the time I was full-time being a journalist also… I felt like that wasn’t sustainable for me.
But we have a bunch of friends that do ghostwriting on the side, and one of them just re-did her bathroom because she got a ghostwriting gig. So, ghostwriting is awesome. And also we know a lot of writers who work with book packaging companies and who work on IP projects. They are really – I hope that we can move forward and be more transparent about these opportunities – because they are ways that writers can actually make a living. And it’s a way to hone your craft.
Writing that book, thirty-thousand words in three weeks on a story that wasn’t mine? Getting into someone else’s voice, telling someone else’s story? It was a great exercise. And Tell Me Everything started as an IP project. It’s completely my own, and I love it with all of my heart, it will always be my debut book, but that’s how the opportunity came to me and I was really excited for it.
Maurene Goo Okay, next question is from Jasmine Warga, author of Here We Are Now [listen to her First Draft episode here]. “I’d love to know, after interviewing so many different writers, is there any piece of advice you heard that’s particularly stuck with you and has really had an impact on your own craft or routine?”
Sarah Enni That is such a good question Jasmine. I think Jasmine’s so great, everyone should read her books. I think, after talking to all these writers, still one of the interviews that stands out to me the most, most, most, most… was sitting down with Libba Bray [author of The Diviners] really early on in the whole podcast experience. This is like an OG episode [listen to her First Draft episodes here and here].
Maurene Goo Mm-hm. I listened to that one.
Sarah Enni It just… some part of me feels indulgent having that episode out there cause it just felt like such a personal conversation to me. And she was so wonderful. But she, in that episode, had this whole thing about writers being… she called it “a particular head-tilt”. That was her way of talking about point-of-view.
Every writer has a particular way of seeing the world and processing what goes on in their lives. And the way that you write about that? She called that your “head-tilt”. And I just thought it was the first time that something connected with me so viscerally about… your book doesn’t need to be for everyone. It is truly just expressing your world.
Let me give an example in my book. I’m not a quick emotional responder. When things happen to me, I need time to process. So, in my books, emotional things happen to my characters and they aren’t in their feelings right away. They’re stunned, and trying to back out of the situation. At first, I was like, “This is a bad book! They need to be feeling stuff right away.” And then after going to therapy and listening to Libba, I was like, “You know, all I can talk about is how I process and experience the world.” So, yeah. Maybe this isn’t direct and it won’t work in all situations. But I can’t be shy about the fact that this is also a legitimate way to respond in a situation in a characters life.
Maurene Goo Right, and it’s not even a question of right or wrong. That exists as a way that some people process emotions, and your understanding of it makes it authentic. That’s something that really, to me, what sticks out in good books versus not so quote “good books”… the authenticity of the writing.
Sarah Enni Yeah. If you’re a listener to Pod Save America you’ve been hearing them talk relentlessly about how people running for president in 2020 need to be authentic, and need to be able to connect with people in a realistic way. And I think books need to pass the same test.
Maurene Goo I agree. Okay, next question is from Danielle Paige, author of Dorothy Must Die and Stealing Snow [listen to her First Draft episode here]. I’m just gonna read it because it’s very cute and very Danielle like. “Sarah, we talked so much about me. Me, me, me. And I realized that there are things I didn’t get to ask you. Where did the art connection come from in your book? Were, or are you, an artist on top of your other gifts?”
Sarah Enni Oh, okay first of all, what a sweet question. I do want to say, just as a side note like a peak behind the curtain, literally every single time I interview someone for this podcast, at the end they’re like, “I talked so much!” Every single person I’ve interviewed has said that to me. And, they’re not wrong, right? But I’m also asking you to sit down and talk about yourself for an hour to two hours. So, it’s so funny to me, still.
So, Danielle, this is such a good question. And I think, yes, when I look back on my especially pre-novel writing life, for a while in college I got really into acrylic paints. I was a photographer in high school. I took photography with a darkroom and all that stuff. So, that’s definitely in Tell Me Everything. That is exactly from my high school experience. Very anachronistic and I’m sure a lot of teenagers will bump up against that and not dig the darkroom stuff.
But I was like, as a teen - even though we had digital cameras - I thought that was so cool. So I wanted to include it for that reason. I always wished I was a musician and never could really get the hang of that. So, I think I’ve been trying out what expression was right for me my whole life. And then got lucky enough to figure out, relatively young, that writing non-fiction was my ultimate expression point.
Maurene Goo Well then Danielle has a further question which is, “How much from your real teen experience did you draw from to write this book?”
Sarah Enni Ooh. Quite a bit. So, this book is set in a place called Sudden Cove, which is a blatant rip-off of an Arrested Development joke. So, sorry about that! Sudden Valley is the name of that housing development that their building [laughing].
Maurene Goo Sudden Valley, oh my god.
Sarah Enni So, it’s possibly a deep cut, but other people will find it very obvious. Sudden Cove, though, is based on Santa Cruz, California. And when I was in high school, when we would do cut days, or whenever we had a free day on the weekend, we would all go to Santa Cruz. We were in San Jose, so it was just over the hill.
So, I associate a lot of magical moments, and a lot of really important friendship moments, with Santa Cruz. And also, Santa Cruz is a deeply strange city. Our friend, Steph Kuehn – who is a fabulous writer – went to the University… [Author of Charm & Strange. Listen to her First Draft episode here].
Maurene Goo One of my favorite writers. For real. Of all time.
Sarah Enni Writing some of the best… just books. Flat out. But, of course, YA books out there. She went to the University of California Santa Cruz and she once described that city to me as, “A place where a piano could fall out of the sky, and it wouldn’t be out of place.” And I just love it for that and I love all of the potential that that gives to a city.
And I truthfully wanted to make the city that they live in in Tell Me Everything, kind of a Stars Hollow for the West Coast. So, that was my goal with it, and that was certainly born out of my love of Santa Cruz as an actual teenager. And I think I wish I’d had Ivy’s trajectory as a young person. I wish I’d known what was the right expression artistically for me. Or, I wish I’d come to grips with myself as an artist when I was younger. Instead of not thinking that it was worth my time.
Maurene Goo I think a lot of us project what we wish we had learned as teens into our books.
Sarah Enni Yes, all the time. Totally.
Maurene Goo And you wrote Northern California well because I actually enjoyed it in your books. And even though Northern California sucks!
Sarah Enni [Laughs] Hey! NORCAL!
Maurene Goo Just kidding! I actually like Northern California, I just have to pretend to hate it cause I’m from here.
Sarah Enni I will say for the record, that you and Kirsten Hubbard, who are born and are true-blue Southern California people, I think I’ve influenced you to both start saying “Hella”.
Maurene Goo Oh my god! You have, actually. I used to make fun of hella so much and I’ve said it as least a few times.
Sarah Enni Yes!
Maurene Goo She has a silly question. Danielle. One last silly question.
Sarah Enni Love it.
Maurene Goo “Is that Taylor Swift on the cover?”
Sarah Enni [gasps] Danielle, this is such a good question!
Maurene Goo Also, “Are you a Swift-y?”
Sarah Enni Ahhhh! Okay, great. I’ll tackle these one at a time. It is not Taylor Swift, but it is a beautiful model who lives in New York. So, it’s not Taylor Swift, but it is a gorgeous, young woman. My grandmother thought it was me.
Maurene Goo I love it. I’m glad your grandma thought it was you because we all get like, “Is that you on the cover?” And I’m always like, “Is it kind of racist that everyone’s asking me?” But sometimes it’s just…
Sarah Enni No. It’s just…
Maurene Goo It’s just, “It kinda looks like you, and it’s your own book, why wouldn’t you be on your own book cover?”
Sarah Enni I know. But also, my grandma being like, “Is this you?” And it’s some stunning eighteen-year-old model. I was like, “You know what Grandma, bless you.” I love you.
Maurene Goo I know, that’s how I feel too. Like, “Thank you!”
Sarah Enni And I am a Swift-y, I’m a huge Taylor Swift… well, okay. Here’s what I’ll say. 1989 is a massively important album for me. I listened to it on loop when I was going through my divorce in New York City. Just walking that island up and down, I listened to Taylor Swift that whole summer, and it was really important to me. So I will always be grateful to her for that.
Maurene Goo Were you listening to…[starts singing] “Welcome to New York, welcome to New York!”
Sarah Enni Yes! That album makes me so emotional and I listen to that song and I think about mid-town, subway grates, smoke coming up out of it, the sun breaking out of clouds while I walk by the Flatiron. I had that whole experience that she, I’m sure, imagined people would have with that song.
Maurene Goo Taylor Swift; she is the inspiration for a lot of YA, I think.
Sarah Enni For sure.
Maurene Goo Okay. Next question is from Peter Stone, author of The Perfect Candidate [listen to his First Draft episode here]. “Why this book? And why now? How does this story connect to your life? And why is this the story you want to tell at this point in your life?”
Sarah Enni Ooh, such a good question. Peter Stone, by the way that book is so interesting and is really of-the-moment, so I think he knows what he’s talking about. He wrote a political thriller, and this is a good time to be writing about politics. I would say, one of the most timely elements about this book is social media, right? That is a big emphasis in this book and, honestly, I didn’t set out to write a critique of Silicon Valley the way that I think it ultimately ended up reading. And tell me if you got this feeling from reading the book.
But I felt like at the end I had a lot to say about… I don’t want to condemn social media, because it’s been a big part and is a big part of our lives and how we connect. And it’s done an enormous amount of social good. But I remain really critical of Silicon Valley and that culture, and their lack of self-awareness, and their lack of foresight. And the fact that young, white men are so responsible for this huge surge… it needs to be examined. And it needs to be really critically analyzed.
So, that element of my book ended up being really important.
Maurene Goo I definitely felt that. And I felt like you were saying something about when you create something like this, you can’t just wash your hands of the responsibility that comes with it. And you were writing this, I think, during the whole… when Mark “Burmkezerg” was being called to congress, right? And having those hearings and stuff. So, I could definitely see all of that in there.
Sarah Enni I created Rake Burmkezerg in June 2016. So, the whole time writing and re-writing this book. And actually, I did tell you in our longer interview that putting myself into the character really broke the book open for me. But honestly, part of unlocking the draft that worked for me, was I was looking at the book and there wasn’t a clear villain. Because no one in the book is a villain. If anything, Ivy would be the villain because she’s the one that does the “bad” thing.
So, I realized we needed an external force to be bringing in the tension in the story. And working that in made it so much better, unlocked it for me, and Rake Burmkezerg was that thing. He became the villain. And as soon as I saw that as the way the story worked, everything was smoother.
And it also was perfect because we were literally, yeah, watching Mark Zuckerberg go in front of congress and that whole embarrassing display.
Maurene Goo And especially in post-election, you know? Him saying it’s not important.
Sarah Enni “I can’t imagine that we’re part of the problem.” And now we know how unbelievably…just ludicrous that statement is.
Maurene Goo Silicon Valley, all of these geniuses – these youthful geniuses – they do have great ideas that are changing the world, right? But you can’t just take that as your like, “I did it! Anyways moving on.” Yeah, cool bro’ you made this car, but people are getting beheaded because the tech isn’t there yet. You know what I mean?
Sarah Enni Kumail Nanjiani, who is a brilliant actor who was on the TV show Silicon Valley, they do a great job of sending up Silicon Valley. I love that show even though it’s tough to watch sometimes. He had this tweet thread at some point, where it was talking about the people who write and create that show went on this tour interviewing people in Silicon Valley, and that they would be in the room with them when they were describing the stuff that they were developing and Kumail said, “We would ask them about the potential downsides of what they were creating.” And he said, “They didn’t have a good answer. They didn’t have canned answers.” It had clearly been the first time they’d ever considered the downside.
Maurene Goo I read that too. It was a bunch of tweets. He did a thread and it was really alarming.
Sarah Enni It was so alarming and also, not surprising at all. That is the culture out there and that’s what I think is the most insidious part of this is like, “Your optimistic view of the world just isn’t the real one. And you can’t assume everyone else on this planet…” Facebook now has a billion users. There not all going into this with good intentions! Of course there’s some bad actors. Are you kidding me? You never put in a fail safe? Give me a break.
Maurene Goo I know. And have the shame to own up to your own part in it and your mistakes [sighs]. Anyways…back to YA related questions. Sabaa Tahir, author of Ember In The Ashes series [listen to her First Draft episode here].
Sarah Enni And former journalist herself.
Maurene Goo Yes, she’s the best. She has a couple of questions. “I’m always so impressed by your interview questions. How has your interviewing process evolved over the years?” So, this is a podcast specific question.
Sarah Enni I love that! Thank you Sabaa for this question. It totally has evolved and in different ways over different stages. So, at the beginning I would really let interviews go on long. I would talk to people for two, to two-and-a-half hours. Now I really try to keep it between an hour to an hour-and-a-half. And honestly a good interview is forty minutes.
If I can keep it succinct then that’s probably for the better. I was listening to two-hour podcasts back then, but not everyone needs to sit down for an hour-and-a-half. I try to make them more succinct.
I had help achieving that goal because I hired a producer to help me put this podcast together. She is so much more skilled at that than I ever was. So being more to the point in my questions and cutting off people who… I think I started with total deference to the interviewee. Assuming this person knows exactly what they want to say and how they want to say it. And truthfully, that’s actually not the case.
An interviewee is the only one who has access to what I’m interested in which is their internal life. But it’s my job to keep them on track and to help them shape this interview so that they get across what they want to get across. And sounding the best that they can.
So, it is my job to redirect if things are going off the rails, and push people on questions if they’re not answering them. And then to edit it out later and make sure that it all is really interesting to the listener and putting the listener first.
So, that’s all changed over time. Yeah, I think that’s all [laughs].
Maurene Goo So, this is Sabaa’s next question, “What’s been your most memorable writing experience? Like a retreat, or a chapter you finished, or a reaction you had?”
Sarah Enni Wow, oh interesting. When I went to LA and my super, super talented friends here started reading my books and having emotional reactions to them? The first couple of times that someone told me that I made them cry when I wrote a book? You know, you can’t replace that feeling.
Maurene Goo Yeah, you always want to make people laugh or cry [emphatically] nothing in between! Boring!
Sarah Enni No. They’re both at the same time would be the ideal.
Maurene Goo Next question is from Sam Maggs author of Girl Squads [listen to her First Draft episode here]. “We all know writing means killing your darlings. Anything you had to cut that really stung?”
Sarah Enni Ooh! [pauses] Wow, that’s a really great question. I’ve rewritten this book so many times that that is a tough one. The second chapter of this book features a truly ridiculous, self-made boat competition…
Sarah Enni It’s so weird to even describe. A bunch of people who made their own boats are competing to see who could not sink. Trying to challenge the ocean I guess. And that scene I added at the very last minute. So I kind of rescued my darling because I realized the second chapter was boring. They were just chatting in her living room or something. I was like, “What we want to do as far as establishing the scene, getting Veil out there, and seeing our main character in her world, needs to be done in that world. It actually needs to be more interesting.”
And this weird boat race was totally my darling. It had a very different beginning. The original scene was really different, but I went and rescued that premise for that chapter.
Maurene Goo And now everybody has to read the book so they can read this boat scene.
Sarah Enni Yes, it features one of my favorite characters who has no lines. Henrick? I think? The Swedish TA.
Maurene Goo I think I imagined him as hot.
Sarah Enni Yeah, oh I describe him as violently blonde. A tall Swede. That was all for me [laughing].
Maurene Goo Awesome. So, the next question is from Alison Cherry, author of The Pros of Cons [and Red] and many more [listen to her First Draft episodes here and here]. And she asks, “Do you have any Podcast recommendations?”
Sarah Enni Oh boy, do I ever. I love podcasts. I listen to tons of them. If you ever meet me in person, you can always ask me what I’m listening to and it will probably be different all the time. Ones that I keep up on really regularly are Pod Save America, and the NPR Politics podcast. I listen to The Daily almost every single morning. I love Keep It also, which is like a pop culture podcast. And I love the narrative, what’s the one I’m trying to think of… [not] Serial, but… S-Town.
Maurene Goo Oh, S-Town. Mm-hm, mm-hm. The best.
Sarah Enni Transcendent one. But also, if you want to, I’m always giving new podcast recommendations in my newsletter, which you can sign up for at SarahEnni.com or FirstDraftPod.com. It’s a great place to keep up with what I’m listening to.
Maurene Goo Okay, next question is fromBeth Revis, author of the Across The Universe series and the Give The Dark My Love series [listen to her First Draft podcast here]. “Was there a bit of research that was fascinating, that was barely there on the page, but helped you write the story?”
Sarah Enni This is a really interesting question because I know as writers, we often go down rabbit holes about little things. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s not in the book hardcore, that was still really inspiring to me. I went on several research trips to Santa Cruz, but one in particular that was very explicitly going to a bunch of different sites in Santa Cruz and checking them out. And that time I definitely went to the Big Foot Museum which is in Felton, California just outside of Santa Cruz.
It’s the Big Foot Discovery Museum and I describe it in Tell Me Everything pretty accurately.
Maurene Goo [Chuckles] Very wacky.
Sarah Enni It was very wacky. And then Elbows Kitchen in Tell Me Everything is a really funky place that’s based on a real place that’s called Kitchen’s Temple, which is in Santa Cruz. And then the Jeff Goldblum stuff, right? I watched all those movies. I watched Independence Day and Jurassic Park on loop while I was doing revisions for this book.
So, it’s kind of a big part of even marketing and promoting for the book, but it’s not in there that much.
Maurene Goo Just the spirit of Jeff.
Sarah Enni [Giggles] Exactly.
Maurene Goo Also, your book takes place in a town like Santa Cruz? Or in Santa Cruz?
Sarah Enni It’s in a town that is based on Santa Cruz.
Maurene Goo So hence, all the Santa Cruz research.
Sarah Enni Yeah.
Maurene Goo Next question is from Leigh Bardugo, author of the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows series, and her upcoming book, Ninth House [listen to her First Draft interviews here and here]. “I always find it hard to transition between talking about writing and actually writing. How do you manage this transition since you have to do it so frequently?”
Sarah Enni Yeah, that’s a really good question. It is interesting. I guess when I look at it, days on which I do podcast interviews I typically don’t write also. And that’s a timing issue as well. So, I think that is how it breaks down.
But also, it’s interesting to hear her say that, cause when I do the podcast interviews. I don’t think about them as talking about writing. I mean, you are talking about writing for sure, but it’s about ideas, and concepts, and some of life. I kind of think about it more of getting to know somebody as opposed to with the explicit purpose of talking about the nuts and bolts of writing.
So, I think on days when I am able to write and do podcast stuff, it doesn’t actually trip me up that much.
Maurene Goo Right, I feel like it’s maybe also just low-key, giving you a lot of inspiration without it being explicitly writing related.
Sarah Enni Totally, I agree with that.
Sarah Enni Oh, good question Kaitlin! My favorite scene was – now I don’t remember which chapter it is in the book – but it’s the chapter when Ivy meets this guy Nate for the first time.
Maurene Goo I like that scene.
Sarah Enni Yeah! He’s such a cutie, and she totally has a crush on him. And what’s funny is that that scene stayed the same. That was one of the first things I wrote. Actually, it might have been the scene I wrote to send Amanda as like a, “Here’s a sample of my writing and my tone.” And it just stayed almost completely untouched through three massive rewrites of this book.
It felt like her voice right away. It felt funny. It was very spontaneous when I wrote it. And that was kind of the chapter I kept going back to, to be like, “This is Ivy. This is Ivy’s voice. Let’s remember this.”
Maurene Goo Mm, interesting. That scene does stick out for me so that makes sense. Okay, next question is from Brandy Colbert, author of Little And Lion and The Revolution of Birdie Randolph [listen to her First Draft interviews here and here]. “What is the most surprising thing about your reading life?”
Sarah Enni Oh, interesting. You and I in our interview talked about how much we liked to read adult contemporary – or adult writing, adult novels – and non-fiction. Some people have been surprised by, I guess, how broadly I read. And then some people are also surprised that I’m not able to read every single book from everyone I interview on this podcast.
Maurene Goo Oh, my gosh. That would be impossible.
Sarah Enni It definitely is impossible. Especially with it being weekly and people who are on this podcast having written so many books. So, I haven’t read the books of every single person that’s been on the podcast, although I try to keep up with a lot of them.
And I wish I read more graphic novels. I don’t read any graphic novels.
Maurene Goo You should because they’re fast.
Sarah Enni I know, right?
Maurene Goo That’s the best part of graphic novels. You’re like, “Oh, I finished this wonderful story in literally one hour. It took the artist seven years to make.”
Sarah Enni [Laughing] I know.
Maurene Goo It always makes me feel bad. Well Brandy had a real important follow-up question.
Sarah Enni Mm.
Maurene Goo “What is Hammer the cats origin story?”
Sarah Enni Oh, my gosh! For anyone who doesn’t know, I have a cat – a tuxedo cat – named Hammer. He is about eight-years-old, and he is the best cat in the world. Brandy was able to live with him for a while. When I first moved to LA, I lived with Brandy, so she knows Hammer quite well.
He was originally born in West Virginia. So, he was like a street cat, even though it’s impossible to imagine now because he is a very spoiled indoor cat. But he had a brother named Chico I think.
Maurene Goo [giggles] What?
Sarah Enni He came with the name Hammer. It was Hammer and Chico.
Maurene Goo Hammer is a really good name.
Sarah Enni It’s pretty great. So, he is my writing buddy and my best friend.
Maurene Goo He is also what I like to call, he’s a classic “scamp”, right?
Sarah Enni He is a scamp!
Maurene Goo When I think of the word scamp, it’s Hammer.
Maurene Goo Oh, my god! He is a rake too! That’s very accurate. He’s a hero in a romance novel. Next question is from Kayla Cagan, author of Piper Perish and Art Boss [listen to her First Draft interview here]. She says, “Okay, a silly-ish question, but I’m genuinely interested. Do you have uniforms, or looks, for when you podcast or write? Like, do you have certain rules, or habits, or rituals that change when you are using one part of your skill set versus another? For example, I know a writer who insists that she will never write in yoga pants, or sweat pants, because she thinks they are too unstructured. And says, ‘sloppy pants, sloppy thoughts.’ When you were writing Tell Me Everything, did you notice a change in your wardrobe? Were you drawn to certain colors more? Or, did you stay away from certain things?”
Sarah Enni I love this question!
Maurene Goo Such a fun question.
Sarah Enni This is such a fun question. This is one I might steal and ask some people on the podcast cause it’s such a good one. I don’t differentiate with what I wear when I do the podcast versus writing. But I would say I don’t wear yoga pants.
Maurene Goo Yeah, I’ve never seen you in yoga pants in my life.
Sarah Enni Oh, that’s great! I’m gonna keep that going. I write in coffee shops and I always do First Draft podcast interviews in person with my subject. So, I want to look like a professional, so I at least have jeans on. You are a clothing… what is it? Clothes Horse? Is that what it is called? You are a clothing aficionado.
Maurene Goo You bet. Mm-hm.
Sarah Enni So, I’m sure you notice this even more than I probably notice it, but I do tend to have uniforms. But it’s not writing based, or work based, it’s more like… I think about shopping once every three months. And then I want to buy what I wear for the next three months, all in one go. And it’s usually the same thing. And then I wear versions of the same thing for months, until there’s holes in them.
Maurene Goo It goes back to what you said in your interview which is, you want to eliminate choice.
Sarah Enni Exactly.
Maurene Goo So, I think maybe that’s what you do. To prepare, like that’s how you prepare your clothes for making it optimal for thinking.
Sarah Enni I totally do that, yeah.
Maurene Goo Yes.
Sarah Enni So, that’s a really good question Kayla. I wouldn’t say as a rule, [but] I pretty much wear black, gray, red or jewel tones.
Maurene Goo Yeah, you do. You do wear jewel tones very well.
Sarah Enni Thank you so much.
Maurene Goo They’re universally flattering.
Sarah Enni They are universally flattering.
Maurene Goo Too bad I don’t wear colors.
Sarah Enni And then I will say, when we go to festivals and stuff, when we do author events, obviously I wear dresses and dress up for that.
Maurene Goo Right, right. Public facing.
Sarah Enni Exactly.
Maurene Goo So, Susan Dennard[listen to her First Draft episode here] author of the Witchlands series asks, “But I’d love to know what keeps you going, keeps you writing, keeps you focused even when the going is tough? I know everyone has a different reason for committing to this tough biz and I’d love to know yours.”
Sarah Enni This is a really good question. I kind of wish I had a more clear answer. But I will say that I just had the experience, which we talked about a little bit, of doing a rewrite of a book. And going through a drafting process. I had been kind of in a funk for maybe a couple of months and then I really dove into drafting and was writing about two thousand words every day. Taking two or more hours every day to just really be present, focus, be in the draft. Write a bunch. And man, I just felt good. I felt better. For that two months I was calmer and happier.
So, I think that though being an author can have a lot of other distracting elements to it, that it was a good reminder that when I’m writing, I’m a happier person. And that’s the heart of all of it, right? It makes me happy to do it. So that was a good reminder of what keeps me going. And also, I think I just love my ideas. I really like my stories. I really like my characters. And I want to get in there and figure them out like puzzle pieces, you know?
I find it enormously satisfying, just as a mental game to want to solve the puzzle. So, those keep me going and, like I said, the podcast does too. I think talking to other writers keeps me engaged and aware of the exciting parts of it in a more regular way. So that keeps me going back to it.
Maurene Goo You’re never isolated from it. You’re around the industry and it keeps you on top of things.
Sarah Enni I really don’t know. It took me so long to write this book. If I didn’t have the podcast… I don’t know.
Maurene Goo Yeah, you never know.
Sarah Enni If I would have been able to stay so motivated.
Maurene Goo Well, let’s not imagine such nightmares.
Sarah Enni [Laughs]
Sarah Enni In addition to being an amazing pop star, Ameriie is a really talented writer.
Maurene Goo And she just had a baby.
Sarah Enni She just had a baby. She’s like the woman doing everything.
Maurene Goo Yeah, she’s a boss. So, she asks, “You’ve had a ten year path to publication, what’s your greatest lesson learned about yourself and your writing process?”
Sarah Enni I am a stubborn, stubborn person. I don’t think I needed the writing process to teach me that, but it is a good illustration of that. And stubborn, maybe that sounds negative to some people, but I definitely see it as a positive. I’m pretty persistent. And I’m ambitious. And those things all come together and have served me well to do it.
Maurene Goo A lot of people have talent but they don’t have any of that. And it doesn’t really mean anything if you don’t finish.
Sarah Enni You can grow your talent. You can develop talent. I mean, to some extent you’re born feeling like you can write or not, but you can always get better at something that you have an innate skill at. You can’t always teach yourself to be stubborn or persistent.
Maurene Goo I don’t think of you as a stubborn person, but I do think of you as persistent.
Sarah Enni My mom’s gonna laugh really hard when she hears you say that!
Maurene Goo And then our last question is from Sara Farizan [author of Here to Stay. Listen to her First Draft interview here] and she asks, “I guess this is selfish, but I usually ask writers what they do when they feel stuck? Because I often feel stuck and want advice on that. For example, there’s a time you’ve carved out for your writing/you must make word count and nothing is happening.”
“Also, you can have Maurene ask how’d you get so wonderful. Good luck.”
Sarah Enni Aww.
Sarah Enni Sara’s such a sweetie. That’s a really good question and I’m glad that she asks other people that. I would love to hear what other people say. But I think when I get stuck, I recognize that it’s probably a problem in the book, or a plot, or the scene isn’t working. Something’s not being served. Something that I do, and I don’t know if you do this, I’m a very visual person in my own mind. How I picture what the story is. I think about my books as like Tetris kind of pieces coming together.
So, often I will want to step back and go back to my outline and reread that and see like, “Okay, if I’m really stuck and something’s not working, what is meant to happen now? Something else should be going on.” So, I kind of step back and look at the bigger picture. And sometimes I just need a break honestly. Sometimes I will just give myself a week off to do other stuff.
I’m lucky to have the podcast in that way cause sometimes I can be like, “I can still be productive this week.” But I do need to give my mind a break.
Maurene Goo Right. It’s such an important thing even if you’re not writing you still want to feel like you’re doing something towards something that actually helps you in life, or as part of your bigger goals.
Sarah Enni It’s true. What do you do when you’re stuck Maurene?
Maurene Goo Oh? I’m very generous with taking breaks because I learned the hard way I can’t force myself. So yeah, I take breaks for almost as long as I want. I know that’s not a luxury everybody has but even when I’m on deadline I do that and I just push myself like crazy at the end.
But I just have an innate sense of how long it’s gonna take me to do things and my body’s like, “We’re gonna use every last second!”
Sarah Enni You know what? I was just reading a book that was talking about how different people’s work process is, and if you’re someone who wants to stay up all night to do the thing right before it’s due…she was like, just go with it.
Maurene Goo That’s been me my whole life. And I’m like, “Why am I doing this?” But it’s like, “You know what? I think if I started this three weeks ago, it wouldn’t even be good!” To be honest. I don’t have that panic pushing me.
But anyways, those were a bunch of lovely questions. Thank you everybody who sent one.
Sarah Enni Yeah, thank you everyone for the questions and thank you everybody who is listening to this. And thank you, Maurene, for taking the time to do this.
Maurene Goo You’re welcome.
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